The Crucifixion

Robert F Kunkle - Choral Director

Robert F. Kunkle, Choral Director for Annapolis High School, in 1959 creatively utilized his mixed choir and 2 women's choirs, plus student soloists from the choirs, to mount performances of The Crucifixion. The choirs' members were from the graduating classes of 1959, 1960 and 1961. He obtained a good tape recorder and microphone, which were used to record 2 performances of The Crucifixion by the 3 choirs and soloists. The "best of" from those 2 performances were edited together and pressed as a limited release record.

Mr. Kunkle graduated from The Eastman School of Music and attended the Dusquesne University Music Appreciation - Chorus Orchestra. In addition to being the director of the choral program at Annapolis High School, he also taught music theory.

The Building

In 1959 AHS was located in the building at 801 Chase Street, in what is now known as the Maryland Hall for the Creative Arts. (Access was from West Street to Amos Garrett to the front of the school on Chase.) That the old high school building is preserved is a testament to those in Annapolis who came together to preserve the old AHS building. It is open to the public to browse its art gallaries. Their website is

Maryland Hall has 4 resident companies, one of which is the Annapolis Chorale. (See The Resident Companies of Maryland Hall.) The Chorale's contact form cites room 202. (I wonder if that is the same large room on the 2nd floor where Mr. Kunkle's choruses practiced?)

Maryland Hall can be reached at:

Annapolis Chorale can be contacted at:

Summary History of The Crucifixion

The Crucifixion was published in 1887. Its musical structure is clearly modelled on the scheme of choruses, chorales, recitatives and arias of Bach’s St Matthew's Passion. How St Matthew's Passion became the model for Stainer in England is an interesting story.

J.S.Bach lived his entire life in North Germany, which is the area where Martin Luther established Lutheranism and which after WWII became part of East Germany. J.S. Bach died in 1750. By 1829 in Germany, when Mendelssohn was only 20, J.S. Bach's works had become popularly unknown. That year Felix Mendelssohn mounted a performance of his arrangement of a shortened version of J.S.Bach's St. Matthew's Passion, to great success. Subsequent performances added back more parts of the Passion getting closer to the original version of J.S.Bach's composition.

Mendelssohn first visited Britain in 1829, the same year he premiered his revival of the St Matthew's Passion in Germany. He returned to Britain in 1832 for what is called his Grand Tour. He returned a number of times afterward, and on a visit in 1842, Mendelssohn spent an evening at the Palace accompanying the 23-year-old Queen Victoria in songs composed by himself and his sister Fanny. After which, Victoria gave him two themes on which he extemporized.

Mendelssohn continued to be based in Germany, where in 1843 he helped set up the Leipzig Conservatory (where in July 1847 American hymnist William Batchelder Bradbury departed for Europe to study under Mendelssohn, who died in November that year before Bradbury arrived at Leipzig.) Perhaps Mendelssohn's greatest musical success came the year before in 1846, in Birmingham, England. That was with the premiere of his oratorio Elijah.

He was quite overwhelmed by the warmth and enthusiasm of the audience that night: "No work of mine ever went so admirably at its first performance," he reported, "nor was received with such enthusiasm by both the musicians and the audience alike as this oratorio. No fewer than four choruses and four arias were encored!"

Although he died the following year in 1847, his influence in England held strong throughout the century, dominating the entire British school of composers. Mendelssohn loved England from the moment he first arrived in London in 1829. His popularity in England contributed to them also embracing Mendelssohn's revival of J.S.Bach's St. Matthew's Passion. Thus, by 1887 when Stainer wrote and published The Crucifixion, the model established by St Matthew's Passion was well established in England.

In fact it was the continuing popularity of J.S.Bach in England that led to Dame Myra Hess (1890-1965) popularizing what she titled "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring." She heard a rehearsal in 1920 by the Bach Choir of London, and decided she really liked that music.

She began including a piano arrangement "Jesu Joy of Man's Desiring" as an encore number to her performances. (It is included as song 18 on the companion recordings as part of the Hymns and Songs project. See Hymns and Songs Playlist.) Dame Hess was persuaded to write down and publish her piano transcription in 1926 for piano solo and in 1934 for two pianos, i.e., a piano duet.

The musical quality of The Crucifixion has been attacked by some. However, it is worthwhile understanding, Stainer’s goal was modest. Namely, to provide an extended Passiontide (Easter season) meditation, which ordinary Parish choirs in Britain could perform and to which congregations could immediately relate. That goal is why he only scored it for pipe organ. Stainer's success at meeting that goal is clear, as testified to by the enduring popularity of The Crucifixion.

Stainer's concept for scoring of The Crucifixion was in contrast with many orchestrated oratorios, including Mendelssohn's Elijah, which had essentially become concert pieces requiring an orchestra. (Note. The performance by the AHS choirs in 1959 was only 52 years after it was written.) Even now, Stainer's setting of "God so loved the world", continues to be performed as an anthem by many churches in its own right.

Many still enjoy the palpable sense of ritual, which folklore status has given to The Crucifixion. For such reasons, including the character of music and text, even now, 125 years after it was first performed, few towns in Britain are likely to find themselves in Holy Week without any local performance of Stainer’s The Crucifixion.

New Scoring

A quite interesting relatively recent occurence (2001) is the Guildford Philharmonic Orchestra, in the Borough of Guildford, Surrey, England, commissioned Barry Rose to create an orchestral score for The Crucifixion. Mr. Ross' orchestration was published in 2001 and the first performance took place in Guildford Cathedral on March 31, 2001, the centenary of Stainer’s death. Subsequently, a recording was made in Guildford Cathedral, 8, 9, 13 January 2003 and released April 14, 2003. A reviewer of that recording thought the new orchestration is nicely conceived to fit with the character of choral. That review can be found at (unsecure) New Orchestrated version by Barry Ross.

Adaptation for Annapolis High School Choirs

Mr. Kunkle adapted performance of the parts of this work to fit his choirs. The mixed chorus sang the parts written for mixed chorus. The two women's choruses sang some of the parts written for recitatives. (Mr. Kunkle may have augmented some additional harmony parts, in addition to those of Stainer's, for what was sung by the women's choruses for the recitative parts. - Will verify during the mastering process. - ) He parceled the remaining solos out to student solists from the choirs who were named on the record.

Creation of Recording

There were two performances, which were recorded in monaural. (One was for the students during the day, and the other was for the community, performed in the evening.) Neither Mr. Kunkle nor others involved in assisting with getting the 2 recordings edited together had any technical knowledge about making a recording when this project was undertaken.

Unfortunately, it was after the performances that the idea of having a record made came into being. So, no professionally knowledgeable persons about the recordmaking process in the 1959 era of the industry were consulted upfront for planning management of the tapings made of the performances. (The process of creating a good recording in 1959 did not have the flexibilities it now has.) As a result, the two performances and a patch addition were recorded at different gain/loudness levels and in different acoustic environments.

It was known the industy practice was to edit/splice together the best-of-performances, which was carried out. However, that meant the resulting spliced together tape of best-of-performances was louder and softer throughout the recording, depending on which performance part was spliced in as the best.

While that is much less of a problem now, in that analogue tape era, mastering was not widely practiced. The record company that pressed the record (Century Record Co) was only founded the year before, in 1958, and focused on the music education market.

The editor at AHS become aware of the volume level differences in the edited "best of" tape. A detailed set of instructions was prepared for exact timings of where the recording volume levels needed to be adjusted. However, Century Record pressed the record as received without providing any value added services, i.e., they just pressed the record from the tape received.

A search of the internet implies that record company did not provide any mastering services, i.e., such services were not available from them. (But even if they had been available, such services likely may not have been in the School's choral budget.)

The result was a record that is an uncomfortable and disappointing listening experience. The lesson learned after the fact, looking back from many years later, is that much of what can now readily be performed via digital mastering of existing recorded materials, was almost impossible then. At that time, all the recording conditions had to be accomodated up front as part of how each recordings was made, in order to make sure when different takes were spliced together, they sounded like a coherent whole.

Mastering The Recording (for the first time)

While the original record was a very disappointing result for audio listenability, the GREAT news is creation of that record preserved a recording of the "best-of-performances." The even Greater news is the very objectionally different volume levels, caused by the different audio levels of the component parts, and other subtleties, are now much more easily addressable in the digital age of music mastering!

So now, more than 60 years after the record was pressed, TortoiseClimbing plans after completion of the Hymns and Songs project, to have the monaural LP recording from those performances digitized and mastered. Thus, for the first time since those performances in spring 1959, there will be a mastered version of the recording produced, which will reasonably reproduce what was envisioned for the recording of the choirs' performances.

Distribution Plans

The assumption after all these years, is there likely will be limited demand for the planned mastered version of this recording. Such interest could primarily be from surviving members of the Annapolis High School choirs from the graduating classes involved in those performances, possibly their children, grandchildren, and friends and family.

However, given that Maryland Hall is the old AHS building where this performance was given in the large auditorium on the main floor they now call the Hall, and Maryland Hall is serving as a home for preserving the arts in Annapolis, there might be an off chance Maryland Hall might be interested in making this available as a representative piece of its history in the community. If so, it is unknown how they would want to provide, e.g., digital files, CDs?

Another possibility is the Annapolis Chorale might have an interest in making this recording available as a historical precursor in Annapolis to formation of their chorale, who might now have members who are children and/or grandchildren of the members of the origianl choirs.

Note. Stainer died in 1901. Thus under any U.S. copyright laws, this work is now in the public domain. Since there are no royalty considerations, this work could be provided as a free digital download, or at cost as a CD. These possibilities for distribution by Maryland Hall or the Annapolis Chorale are an unknown at this time.

TortoiseClimbing's™ current plan is to make the mastered version available as a free download of a digital audio file (with at least three alternative formats envisioned) from this website. The dropdowm submenu above left provides a link to the page that will provide that download capability for this recording.

Decisions about whether to also produce the mastered audio file in more digital formats than FLAC, AAC and MP3, or perhaps a very limited number of CDs, will depend on whether there is any demand for such. Any such interest can be provided via the Contact/Comment form.

Conceptually there is also the possibility of creating a YouTube version of the mastered performance. While that would be a bit of an undertaking to produce appropriate video content to accompany the mastered audio, (in order to allow it to be posted to YouTube) that is a possibility. Again, is there any interest?

You can submit requests for additional digital audio file formats (such as Apple's ALAC-Apple Lossless Audio Codec-), a CD, or a YouTube version, via the comments form on this website. To submit such a comment go to the bottom of this page and click on the link Provide Comment. It will take you to the comment page, where in the comments section at the bottom of the form you can explain your request.

Further inputs are solicited to expand this story about Mr. Kunkle, making of this recording, etc!! For example, what was the recorder Mr. Kunkle obtained for this project? Any other specs? What information about Mr. Kunkle would be good to include, and who has it? Etc. Information about choir members, etc.? How might this relate to the prehistory of Maryland Hall?

If you wish to comment on contents of this webpage, Clicking the button below will both transfer you to the Contact/Comment page, and pass along that you were on this webpage when you decided to comment.

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